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Editorial Articles


Issue no 44, 27 January - 02 February 2024

 

Revitalising Inland Waterways for Economic Growth, Sustainable Tourism

 

Ritesh Kumar

India has an extensive network of inland waterways, comprising rivers, canals, backwaters and creeks. However, the utilisation of waterways for economic activities remains significantly underexplored when compared to developed nations. Currently, India heavily relies on road and rail for hinterland connectivity, relegating domestic waterways-both coastal shipping and inland waterways to a limited role, despite it being considered a more cost effective and environment friendly mode of transport for freight. Nevertheless, Inland Water Transport (IWT) emerges as a promising supplement to alleviate the strain on railways and reduce congestion on roadways. Beyond its primary role in cargo movement, the IWT sector also contributes to the burgeoning tourism sector. To propel the integration of waterways into the national transport framework, the National Waterways Act of 2016 has designated 111 inland waterways as ‘National Waterways (NWs)’, encompassing a vast network spanning 20,275 kms across 24 states in the country. Leveraging the provisions of the legislation, the government has adopted a comprehensive policy aimed at steering the nation towards a future where these water bodies become engines of economic growth and vibrant ecosystems for tourism. Recent statistics reveal a noteworthy surge in waterway cargo, with 86.47 million metric tonnes (MMT) moved from April to November 2023, indicating a substantial 7.49% increase compared to the same period in 2022. Furthermore, the Inland Waterways Development Council (IWDC), launched by the Ministry of Ports, Shipping & Waterways (MoPSW) on October 12, 2023, stands as a pioneering initiative. Chaired by the Union Minister for Ports, Shipping & Waterways, this council includes participation from State Governments/UTs and other Union Ministries as members. The IWDC is tasked with the responsibility of significantly boosting cargo, passenger movement and river cruise tourism, marking a pivotal stride in the comprehensive development of Inland Water Transport (IWT) in India. IWCD recently concluded its maiden meeting in Kolkata, during which, Shri Sarbananda Sonowal, Minister of Ports, Shipping & Waterways, laid out ambitious plans, including a Rs 45,000 crore investment for the development of river cruise tourism. Out of this, Rs 35,000 crore is earmarked for cruise vessels and an additional Rs 10,000 crore is allocated for the development of cruise terminal infrastructure by 2047. This visionary investment aims to tap into the immense potential of India's inland waterways, leveraging them as conduits for economic growth and commerce. Furthermore, a substantial investment of Rs 15,200 crore, committed at the Global Maritime India Summit (GMIS) 2023, is set to catapult cargo trade via inland water-ways. With an anticipated growth rate of over 400%, the volume is projected to reach 500 Million Tonnes Per Annum (MTPA) by 2047. The significance of this investment lies not only in its economic impact but also in its potential to alleviate pressure on other transportation modes and their environmental impact.

 

Strategic Roadmap for Development

The 'River Cruise Tourism Roadmap, 2047' outlines plans to enhance capacity in 26 waterways suitable for river cruise tourism, increasing the number of cruise circuits with night stays from 17 to 80. Moreover, the infrastructure for river cruise terminals is set to grow exponentially, with the aim of readying 185 terminals - a 1233% increase from the current 15 terminals. The roadmap also targets substantial growth in cruise tourism traffic, with night stays expected to surge from 5,000 to 1.20 lakh by 2047. Additionally, local cruise tourism traffic on National Waterways without night stays is projected to rise from 2 lakh to 15 lakh by the same year.

 

Initiatives and Achievements

The government's commitment to revitalising India's inland waterways involves a series of strategic initiatives and noteworthy achievements, show-casing a dedication to unlocking the immense potential of these water bodies for economic growth and sustainable transport.

 

 ·         Jal Marg Vikas Project (JMVP): The flagship Jal Marg Vikas Project (JMVP) is a cornerstone initiative aimed at the development of the Ganga Bhagirathi-Hooghly river system (NW 1). This project focuses on multiple facets, including cargo movement, Roll-on/Roll-off (Ro-Ro) services and passenger ferry operations. It also emphasises the inclusion of small villages through community jetties, fostering inclusive development.

·         Infrastructure Development: Significant progress has been made in establishing Multimodal Terminals at strategic locations such as Varanasi, Sahibganj and Haldia. These terminals play a pivotal role in enhancing regional connectivity and facilitating the seamless movement of goods and passengers.

·         Kalughat Intermodal Terminal: The Kalughat Inter-modal Terminal stands as a testament to India's commitment to boosting trade activities. This terminal, with its strategic location, aims to facilitate efficient transportation and contribute to the overall development of water-way infrastructure.

·         Navigational Lock at Farakka: The completion of a new Navigational Lock at Farakka is a crucial achievement that enhances water-way navigability. This infrastructure development ensures smoother passage for vessels, further promoting the efficient movement of cargo and passengers.

·         Community Jetties: The ongoing construction of over 60 community jetties under-scores a commitment to local connectivity and accessibility. These jetties serve as key points for the local population to connect with the broader inland water transport net-work.

·         Turnaround of Syama Prasad Mookerjee Port: The Syama Prasad Mookerjee Port in Kolkata, which was in a loss in 2014, has witnessed a remarkable turnaround. The port is set to achieve a net surplus of over Rs 550 crore for FY 2023-24, showcasing the positive impact of strategic interventions and management.

·         Modal Share and Cargo Volume: Aligned with the Maritime India Vision 2030, the government has set ambitious targets, aiming to increase the modal share of Inland Water Transport (IWT) from 2% to 5%. Simultaneously, the goal involves elevating the existing IWT cargo volume from 120 MTPA to more than 500 MTPA by 2047, as outlined in the Maritime Amrit Kaal Vision 2047.

·         Electric Catamaran Vessels: In a move towards sustainable transport, the deployment of eight electric catamaran vessels marks a strategic initiative. These vessels, strategically placed for pilgrimage tourism on National Waterway-1 and National Waterway-2, re-present a commitment to green and eco-friendly propulsion fuels.

These initiatives and achievements collectively high-light the government's proactive stance in transforming India's inland waterways into robust channels for economic development, job creation and sustainable transportation. As the nation pursues the goals outlined in the Maritime Amrit Kaal Vision 2047, these efforts aim to position inland water transport as a key player in India's overall transport and logistics landscape.

Harit Nauka - Focus on Sustainability

Embarking on a transformative journey towards a sustainable future, India is meticulously reshaping its inland waterways, placing paramount emphasis on environ-mental stewardship, economic resilience and social inclusivity. At the heart of this comprehensive metamorphosis lies the introduction of the 'Harit Nauka' guidelines during the recently concluded edition of the In-land Waterways Development Council. These guidelines advocate the adoption of cutting-edge technologies, use of electric, hybrid, hydrogen and derivative propulsion fuels, symbolising India's commitment to a cleaner, more sustainable energy landscape. This dedication is further underscored by the strategic deployment of eight electric catamaran vessels, strategically positioned along National Waterways, showcasing a tangible and progressive step towards reducing the ecological footprint of inland water transport. Electric catamaran vessels are considered more environment friendly compared to traditional vessels powered by fossil fuels for several reasons:

 

Zero Emissions During Operation: One of the primary advantages of electric catamaran vessels is that they produce zero emissions during operation. Traditional vessels powered by fossil fuels release pollutants such as carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur oxides (SOx) and particulate matter into the air and water. In contrast, electric catamarans, when powered by electricity from clean and renewable sources, operate without emitting harmful pollutants, contributing to improved air and water quality.

Reduced Air and Noise Pollution: Electric catamarans operate quietly compared to traditional vessels with internal combustion engines. The absence of noisy engine operations not only provides a more pleasant experience for passengers but also reduces noise pollution, benefiting marine ecosystems and wildlife. Additionally, the lack of emissions enhances the overall air quality in and around water bodies where these vessels operate.

Lower Greenhouse Gas Emissions: By relying on electricity from renewable sources, electric catamarans contribute to lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to their conventional counterparts. Since they do not burn fossil fuels directly, they help mitigate climate change by reducing the overall carbon footprint associated with transportation. The extent of emission reduction depends on the energy mix of the grid from which the vessels draw their electricity.

Energy Efficiency and Regeneration: Electric propulsion systems are generally more energy-efficient than traditional internal combustion engines. Electric catamarans can optimise energy use and often incorporate regenerative braking systems that convert kinetic energy back into electrical energy when slowing down or stopping. This regenerative feature enhances overall energy efficiency and contributes to a more sustainable operation.

Potential for Renewable Energy Integration: Electric catamarans can leverage advancements in renewable energy technologies. As the share of renewable energy in the electricity grid increases, the environmental benefits of electric vessels grow. Solar, wind and hydroelectric power sources can be harnessed to generate clean electricity for charging the catamarans, further reducing their ecological impact.

Navigating the Potential of Inland Cruise Tourism

India has taken a significant leap forward in harnessing its expansive inland waterways to boost tourism. In January 2023, the global community was captivated by the unveiling of MV Ganga Vilas, heralded as the world's longest river cruise. Covering a staggering 32,000 kms in 51 days, traversing 27 river systems across five states and two countries via the Ganga - Brahmaputra river systems and this historic cruise unfolded tales of cultural significance. Commencing from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh and concluding in Dibrugarh, Assam, it made stops at nearly 50 locations, showcasing the rich ethos of northern India. Noteworthy cities like Patna, Sahibganj, Kolkata, Guwahati and Dhaka in Bangladesh were featured, providing a composite narrative.

 

European tourists were treated to a journey through ancient temples and sites such as Sarnath, offering insights into India's rich history. War memorials, museums and educational institutions like Banaras Hindu University, Vikramshila University and Bihar School of Yoga were visited, unraveling different facets of the nation's journey. The cruise also explored diverse flora and fauna, from the Royal Bengal tigers of the Sunderbans to the one-horned rhinos of Kaziranga National Park. The entire experience proudly reflected the essence of India, with the 'Make in India' vessel MV Ganga Vilas, adorned by Indian designers. Tourists gained insights into local arts, crafts and initiatives like 'One District One Product.'

The vessel, adhering to a zero-discharge policy, utilised Indian Oil Corporation manufactured green fuel with the Dolphin Deterrent Device, aligning with environmental conservation commitments. Moreover, the integration of North India with the north-eastern region through river systems aligned with the Look East Policy, fortifying international trade routes via the Indo-Bangladesh Protocol Route. The cruise also aimed to invigorate trade between Dibrugarh and Kolkata, bolstering the local economy of both the North and the North East India. Beyond being a transformative tourism experience, this cruise laid the foundation for future developments, promising economic, trade and commerce benefits while embodying the spirit of 'Ek Bharat Shreshta Bharat.'

Empowering Local Businesses: Inland Waterways and E-Commerce Collaboration

The Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) and Amazon Seller Services Pvt. Ltd. have joined forces to tap into the extensive inland waterways of India, primarily the Ganges (National Water-way 1), revolutionising the landscape of e-commerce cargo movement.  Nevertheless, the long term benefits are not limited to streamlined and eco-friendly cargo movement.  In an era where local empowerment and global outreach converge, this collaboration emerges as a transformative force, offering a significant impetus to local businesses, supporting initiatives like "One District, One Product", "Vocal for Local" and "Aatma Nirbhar Bharat." As local businesses leverage the extensive inland waterways, showcasing their unique regional products on global e-commerce platforms becomes a reality. This synergy enhances the economic vibrancy of districts, offering a platform for artisans, entrepreneurs and traders to showcase and sell their products on an international stage. It fosters economic inclusivity, reinforcing the sustainability of local ecosystems.

 

Conclusion

India's strategic revitalisation of inland waterways demonstrates meticulous planning and targeted investments. The emphasis on long-term goals, encompassing modal share, cargo volume increase and expansive infrastructure underscores a comprehensive and strategic perspective on development as well as a cognizance of the global trend towards sustainable transportation. The integration of local businesses into global e-commerce platforms signifies a visionary strategy aligned with national economic inclusivity initiatives. This strategic planning not only situates inland water transport as a pivotal player in India's broader transport and logistics landscape but also holds the promise of yielding positive outcomes in terms of economic development, employment gene-ration, sustainable tourism and local empowerment.

 

(The author is a Delhi-based correspondent for an international multi-media platform. Feedback on this article can be shared at feedback.employmentnews@gmail.com)

Views expressed are personal.